Alice Munro and the craft of short fiction

Paul William Rogalus, Purdue University


Although Alice Munro is a contemporary writer who has denied having any interest in a "literary tradition," she fits solidly into the modern short story tradition represented by writers such as James, Joyce, Hemingway and the other fiction writers of the modern period for whom the method of presentation, that is, of narrative technique, was intimately bound up with theme or meaning.^ While Munro's the general themes have been consistent throughout her career, the struggle of the individual for self-awareness and self-definition, her technique--her means of approaching and dealing with these themes--has been steadily altered. Her early stories provide revealed meanings--moments of insight similar to the epiphanies in James Joyce's stories--first into small scale, very private individual problems in Dance of the Happy Shades, then, in Something I've Been Meaning to Tell You, to large social issues. Yet, in most of the stories in these two collections, the point of view characters never come to understand the entire "truth" of their situations.^ Later, in the middle period of her career, Munro shows life as less coherent, more mysterious. In the stories of The Beggar Maid and The Moons of Jupiter Munro uses fragmentary techniques somewhat similar to those in early Hemingway stories in order to illustrate the chaotic nature of her characters' lives, suggesting that a coherent understanding of life is impossible.^ And, finally, in her two most recent collections, The Progress of Love and Friend of My Youth, Munro has moved beyond the use of a fragmented style and a theme of life's unfathomable chaos. In these collections Munro focuses on the ability of individuals to, continuously, impose patterns of meaning upon their lives, to adjust their sensibilities of who they are in order to rise above the apparent, jumbled meaninglessness of the modern world. In these stories, she employs a more coherent technical framework than she did in the Moons stories, a stronger sense of connectedness of form, as characters are paralleled with other characters or with naturally symbolic phenomena within the story. While showing us that the world is still a confusing place, Munro gives us more easily detectable patterns in the stories in Progress and Friend. ^




Major Professor: William J. Stuckey, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Literature, Modern|Literature, Canadian (English)

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